With the publication of the Founding and Manifesto of Futurism in February 1909, Filippo Tomasso Marinetti laid out the blueprint for an avant-garde movement. He was deliberately provocative in his wholesale rejection of the past: ‘Turn aside the canals to flood the museums!… Take up your pickaxes, your axes and hammers and wreck, wreck the venerable cities, pitilessly!’ Beginning with Italy, which he saw as artistically complacent, he proposed a total modernisation of contemporary culture in line with the advances in technology, philosophy and anarchist politics. Most controversially, he celebrated war as a means of political change and dismissed contemporary feminism.
Speed, ‘the new beauty’, was the defining phenomenon of modern life, transforming even the structure of the human body. Marinetti described himself as a modern centaur piloting his car, swept by ‘the raging broom of madness’. He declared that ‘a roaring car… is more beautiful than The Victory of Samothrace.’
The painters Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Luigi Russolo and Gino Severini all joined the movement. To shape their art they drew upon new ideas of perception, experimental photography and multi-sensory responses, and the simultaneous interleaving of memory and experience. In parallel to the abstraction of form developed by the Cubists, the Futurists fragmented the body to show its active impact on its surroundings, through what they called ‘lines of force’. With echoes of Friedrich Nietzsche’s intellectually and physically developed superman, the new heroic human was adapted to the 20th century in a way that would allow the individual to transform society.